COVID-19: As fears of a third wave mount, what’s going on in Europe?

As fears of a third COVID-19 wave mount and British holidaymakers brace themselves for a second year without a break abroad, all eyes are on Europe.

Despite the success of the UK’s vaccine roll-out programme – with half of all adults having received a jab – there are fears that travelling abroad may bring people into contact with other variants of the virus, sabotaging gains made so far.

And in a continuing war of words, the EU has threatened to block exports of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to countries outside the EU – including the UK – in a bid to make sure there are enough left for its citizens.

Here’s the current situation across Europe:

Germany

A rise in infections in Germany has led Chancellor Angela Merkel to warn that she may need to apply an "emergency brake" on relaxing restrictions.

Lockdown measures will be re-imposed in regions where the number of weekly cases is above 100 per 100,000 residents – the threshold where intensive care units can’t keep up.

On 21 March, it was 103.9 nationwide, according to the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases.

Hamburg has returned to a full lockdown, after a spike in cases.

Homemade masks are also now no longer considered adequate protection in shops and on public transport, and clinical masks must be worn.

The country is also considering making everyone returning from abroad face quarantine and compulsory tests, according to draft plans seen by Reuters news agency.

National and regional leaders are due to meet on Monday to decide on the next round of measures to deal with the crisis.

Germany has so far seen nearly 2,700,000 cases of COVID-19, and more than 74,700 deaths.

The country has restarted its vaccine programmes with the AstraZeneca jab – reversing earlier decisions to suspend it over blood clot concerns.

France

Rising COVID numbers and a slow vaccine rollout have forced French authorities to re-impose lockdown measures in 16 areas, including Paris, affecting about 21 million people.

Non-essential shops are required to close, inter-regional travel is prohibited, and the nationwide nightly curfew is being moved back an hour to 7pm local time.

However, it is less strict than previous lockdowns – schools, hairdressers and bookshops can open and people are able to exercise outdoors within 10km (6 miles) of their home.

The measures will be in place for at least four weeks.

On 21 March, there were 4,353 people in intensive care with COVID – the highest number this year, while more than 35,000 new cases were reported by the health ministry.

France has so far had about 4,200,000 coronavirus cases, and 92,100 deaths.

The country has restarted its vaccine programmes with the AstraZeneca jab, but a YouGov poll suggests 61% of people in France now see the Oxford jab as unsafe.

Italy

It will be a muted Easter for Italy, with a total shutdown across the country from 3 to 5 April. People will have to stay at home except for work, health or other essential reasons.

More than half the country – including Rome and Milan – is already under restrictions imposed on 15 March, which saw restaurants and schools once again closed.

Thousands of parents, children and teachers have protested at the closures in squares across the country, including Rome’s Piazza del Popolo and Milan’s central Piazza Duomo.

Promises to vaccinate all Italians over 80 by the end of March have fallen woefully short, amid well-documented interruptions of vaccine supplies and organisational shortfalls.

So far, Italy has seen more than 3,300,000 cases of COVID-19, and over 104,942 deaths – the sixth-highest tally in the world and second in Europe.

Like Germany and France, Italy has also made the decision to restart its vaccine programmes with the AstraZeneca jab.

Greece

Schools in Greece will remain closed until the end of the month, and non-essential shops in areas with high infection rates are also closed.

People cannot travel outside their area of residence, and there is a curfew in place from 9pm local time during the week and from 7pm at weekends.

Greece will start distributing free do-it-yourself COVID-19 tests next month, due to stubbornly high levels of new infections, authorities say.

Everyone with a social security number will be entitled to four test kits per month, and they will be distributed at pharmacies.

The country is also now ordering private sector doctors to help public hospitals struggling to cope, after a previous voluntary appeal got little response. Authorities say about 200 are needed.

Greece has so far had more than 235,600 cases of COVID-19 and over 7,400 people have died.

An open travel corridor between Greece and the UK last year – with no requirement to quarantine on return – has been blamed for significantly spreading the virus in a Public Health England study published this week.

Poland

In Poland, a three-week lockdown is under way with non-essential shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities closed.

A jump in infection rates has led authorities to urge Poles to observe the new restrictions and get the vaccination as soon as it is offered.

While Poland didn’t discontinue using the AstraZeneca vaccine, many Poles were not turning up for their inoculation, with authorities blaming that on "panic" in other countries.

It has so far experienced more than 2,000,000 cases of COVID-19 and 49,100 deaths.

Germany has now classed Poland a "high incidence area", saying cases had exceeded 200 per 100,000 people over seven days and warning against non-essential travel.

Spain

Spain is under an overnight nationwide curfew until May, although precise restrictions vary in each of the country’s 17 regions.

After weeks of falling infection rates, the country’s coronavirus incidence is on the rise again, prompting fears it could soon join the uptick that the rest of Europe is experiencing.

Spain has so far had more than 3,200,000 COVID-19 infections and 72,900 people have died.

It has also said it will resume vaccinating with AstraZeneca doses after the European regulator’s all-clear.

Portugal

Mainland Portugal is under a state of emergency until the end of March.

All non-essential services and schools are shut, and people are being urged to stay home.

The country began relaxing its lockdown measures from 11 March, but has kept travel restrictions, including controls on its border with Spain, in place.

It has so far seen about 817,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 16,700 deaths.

Portugal has said Britons can visit from 17 May if they have a vaccination certificate or evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

However, exactly when the UK government will allow people to travel abroad is still to be announced.

There are fears that summer holidays abroad could be ruled out as cases in Europe increase again.

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